In defining what constitutes a truck accident under Texas trucking laws and regulations, truck accident law firms and personal injury attorneys use their expertise and experience on both the law and court decisions to provide guidance and legal advice to clients. When a person suffers injury or loss from an accident involving a large truck, attorneys are the professionals to consult to get an in-depth understanding of the situation and to know the next course of action to take. This article provides information about truck accidents in Texas, including what constitutes a truck accident, the various types and causes of truck accidents.
A truck accident is a traffic crash involving a truck and other road users, such as other vehicle drivers and pedestrians. Such accidents can be severe, involving multiple road users, and causing property damage. According to traffic crash reports for 2019, over 5,000 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes, with occupants of other vehicles accounting for over 70% of the fatalities. These figures do not account for non-fatal truck accidents and several property damages. This indicates how severe truck crashes can be, especially for other road users.
The Texas Transportation Code classifies any vehicle manufactured, used, or designed mainly to transport property as a truck. Clearly, the factor determining if a vehicle is a truck in Texas is if the vehicle’s design or use is majorly for transporting property. However, besides this general classification, Texas trucks are also typically classified by their gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Following the GVWR classification, transport vehicles with a GVWR of between 6,000 and 10,000 pounds are light-duty trucks. Transport vehicles with a GVWR between 10,001 and 26,000 pounds and those with a GVWR greater than 26,001 pounds are classified as medium-duty trucks and heavy-duty trucks, respectively. Essentially, trucks in Texas range from SUVs and vans to school buses, fire trucks, big rigs, cement mixers, mobile cranes, and other larger vehicles.
The first step to finding out if a vehicle is a CMV in Texas is to determine if the vehicle is operating intrastate or interstate. Generally, before any vehicle can be considered a CMV in Texas, the vehicle must be a self-propelled or towed vehicle primarily designed or used to transport passengers or cargo on a public highway. However, there are different weight and transportation requirements for vehicles operating intrastate and those operating interstate. Regarding intrastate vehicles, which are vehicles operating within Texas alone, such vehicles must have a gross weight, registered weight, or GVWR of less than 48,000 pounds. In addition, they must meet the following weight or transportation benchmark to be considered a CMV:
Note that farm vehicles and motorcycles are not considered CMVs in Texas, regardless of whether or not they meet the above benchmark.
On the other hand, interstate vehicles, which are vehicles operating between Texas and other states, are only considered CMVs if such vehicles:
Similar to automobile accidents, there are different types of truck accidents in Texas. These include:
Although there are different types of truck accidents in Texas, as illustrated above, some of these accidents are more common than others. The most common truck accidents include:
There are several causes of truck accidents in Texas, and these range from a driver’s unfamiliarity with road networks to vehicle failure or recklessness from other road users. Nonetheless, below are some common causes of truck accidents in Texas:
Distraction: This encompasses situations whereby Texas truck drivers do things that disturb their concentration when driving. This can range from changing vehicle climate conditions or radio stations to making phone calls or even texting while driving. Distracted driving, especially among truck drivers, is so common that it occurs across several states in the United States and not just in Texas alone. Per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), distracted driving accounts for 12% of truck accidents annually.
Fatigue: Truck drivers in Texas are known to drive long distances and for long hours. The downside of this is fatigue. Due to fatigue, there have been reports of truck drivers dozing off while driving. Additionally, fatigue makes it difficult to maintain concentration levels and negatively affects response time. These issues unavoidably lead to truck accidents, especially rear-end accidents and head-on collisions. Unsurprisingly, it is estimated that 13% of commercial motor vehicle drivers were experiencing fatigue during their crashes.
Unfamiliarity with road network and terrain: Truck driving typically requires driving through new terrain. However, there are cases where truck drivers are unfamiliar with a particular terrain, especially the sharp bends and intersections. This consequently leads to a loss of vehicle control and accidents, especially T-bone and rollover accidents.
Poor environmental and road conditions: These are also common causes of truck accidents. Poor environmental conditions refer to climate conditions that make driving difficult. These include a foggy atmosphere and frozen roads. Besides these poor environmental conditions, poor road conditions also contribute to truck accidents. These include bad roads and a lack of traffic guides or necessary traffic signs. Poor environmental conditions are estimated to cause some 3% of truck accidents.
Drug and alcohol use: Alcohol negatively affects concentration levels and contributes to reckless decision-making. Notably, the use of alcohol by Texas truck drivers has been indicated as a risk factor for traffic accidents. Despite the dangers, truck drivers sometimes take alcohol or intoxicating substances before or even while trucking. The result of this has been several truck accidents. In 2013, over 1,000 truck drivers who were involved in a fatal crash were tested for intoxicating drugs. 19% of these drivers had at least one intoxicating drug in their system, accounting for a 3% rise from the previous year.
Vehicle malfunction: While a large number of truck accidents are traceable to the truck driver’s actions or inactions, vehicle malfunctions are also a common cause of such accidents. Such malfunctions include brake failures, tire blowouts, and engine failure. Although Texas truckers and truck companies can reduce vehicle malfunctions through proper maintenance, these malfunctions still account for some 10% of truck accidents annually.
Annually, the Texas Department of Transportation (TDT) publishes statistics on traffic accidents across the state. The TDT classifies crash figures under different labels for ease of navigation, such as crashes by vehicle type, county, and date. However, under the available labels, there is no specific statistic for crashes involving trucks generally. There are only statistics on crashes involving commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) and towed trucks or trailers. Essentially, the TDT publishes specific crash statistics involving larger trucks.
Between 2016 and 2020, there were over 170,000 crashes involving CMVs, accounting for an average of over 35,000 crashes yearly. However, the highest number of crashes occurred in 2019, with the TDT recording 39,255 truck accidents. Similarly, between 2016 and 2020, there were over 198,000 crashes involving towed trucks and trailers, with the year 2019 also experiencing the highest number of crashes. Following these figures, over 39,000 crashes occur on average between towed trucks and trailer drivers, and other road users. Cumulatively, over 74,000 crashes involving large trucks occur annually across Texas.
In many ways, truck accidents are different from car accidents. Particularly, truck accidents are different in three major ways:
Level of damage: Due to their heavy sizes, speed, and slow braking time, truck accidents usually result in more severe damage than car accidents. Truck weights come to play even in slow-speed collisions, especially when the other vehicle is a passenger vehicle.
Financial considerations and liabilities: Due to the level of damage that typically occurs during truck accidents, the extent of economic and non-economic compensations recoverable are usually high. In most cases, victims claim compensation for their damaged vehicle, medical bills, and emotional trauma. Victims of truck accidents especially claim compensation for emotional trauma, a form of non-economic compensation that involves large sums of money if awarded. While victims of average car accidents sometimes claim compensation for emotional trauma, the chances of successfully claiming it are lower than in truck accidents. Even if successful with the claim, the costs awarded are typically lower than in truck accidents.
Parties involved: In average car accidents, the relevant parties are mostly the victims of the crash and the guilty party. In some cases, the guilty party's insurance company may also come in. However, the relevant parties in truck accidents are usually wider. They include the victim, the truck driver, the trucking company, and the insurance company of either the truck driver or the trucking company. This four-way involvement essentially means more financial considerations and more legal tussle. Parties relevant to a trucking accident may additionally include:
Other ways in which trucking accidents are different from car accidents also include the government agencies involved and relevant investigations.
Although Texas truck drivers have crucial roles in avoiding trucking accidents, other road users also need to protect themselves. Essentially, it is crucial to learn and understand different tips that can help avoid truck accidents. This is especially necessary for car drivers, as they are likely to suffer more if involved in a trucking accident.
There are different tips to help avoid truck accidents. However, some of these tips are general, while others are specific to car and truck drivers. Some of the general tips are:
Ensure to maintain concentration while driving: In 2020 alone, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates over 3,000 deaths resulting from distracted driving across the country. This figure includes distracted driving crashes and pedestrian hits. The fatalities are even worse for large trucks, as distracted driving accounts for 22,000 large truck accidents annually. Essentially, distracted driving is very unsafe and dangerous. It can even be unsafer on highways where large trucks are likely to pass routinely. Therefore, maintaining concentration while driving is crucial.
Get enough rest: Annually, fatigued driving remains a leading cause of auto accidents across the country, partly causing one in five deadly crashes. Inadequate rest makes it difficult to maintain concentration, and fatigue can have the same effect as being under the influence of alcohol. To improve response time and maintain high concentration levels, it is essential to always get enough rest before hitting the road.
Avoid late or early driving: Although truck accidents do occur at any time of the day, they are likely to occur more early in the morning and late at night. These are periods when Texas truck drivers are likely to feel dizzy, and the atmosphere is not lit up enough. Consequently, it is easier to make driving errors during these periods while being unable to see far ahead.
Other general tips include obeying traffic regulations, such as stopping at a red light and keeping within the speed limit, and always being careful of surrounding drivers.
On the other hand, some of the specific tips relevant to car drivers that can help with avoiding truck accidents include:
Keep a reasonable distance from the truck in front: It has been noted that trucks are generally heavier and take more time to slow down. Therefore, it can be difficult to realize when a truck ahead is slowing down until it is almost too late. This situation partly leads to underride accidents.
Give a clear signal when overtaking: A lot of time, truck drivers are unaware of cars in their blind spots. Cars mostly in a truck’s blind spots are cars trying to overtake the truck. In some cases, while an overtaking is ongoing, truck drivers may not be aware and try changing lanes or making turns. This has led to sideswipe and jackknife accidents. Therefore, when overtaking a truck, never assume the truck driver is aware. Give a clear signal to inform the truck driver. This signal includes honking the car horn or flashing the car’s headlights.
Do not be eager to overtake: While trucks may seem slow, they can achieve high speeds, especially on clear highways. Therefore, calculate the overtaking chances before attempting one. Do not be eager to overtake a truck and get stuck in a road race while facing oncoming traffic. This can lead to head-on collisions or also result in underride accidents.
Take extra caution when driving around trucks: Although truck drivers have the responsibility of being extra careful when trucking, it is still crucial for car drivers to take extra caution when driving around trucks. Doing this is particularly necessary, considering truck accidents inflict more damage on cars and car occupants than on trucks and truck drivers.
Also, specific tips relevant to truck drivers include:
According to crash statistics from the Texas Department of Transportation for the 2020 fiscal year, the most dangerous roads and intersections for trucks are those in the Harris County, Dallas County, and Bexar County areas. Overall statistics on auto accidents across Texas indicate that highways in these counties witness the highest number of serious traffic accidents than other counties in the state.
Several laws regulate truckers and trucking companies operating in Texas, particularly federal and state laws. However, the major laws with extensive provisions relating to truckers and trucking companies are the Texas Administrative Code, the Texas Transportation Code, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations. Cumulatively, these laws and regulations cover:
Accordingly, these laws and regulations contain provisions truckers and trucking companies must first abide by before operating within Texas. Non-compliance with these laws and regulations attracts severe penalties, ranging from revocation of licenses and permits to heavy fines.
When truck accidents occur, there is usually an investigation to determine the cause of the crash and which of the drivers involved has the most fault. In cases whereby truckers are at fault for such accidents, various things can happen. The relevant regulatory agency, such as the Texas Department of Transportation, may ensure the suspension or revocation of the trucker’s license. In extreme cases, especially in cases of gross negligence, drunk driving, or working beyond the hours of service, the trucker may also pay heavy fines. Similarly, the relevant regulatory agency may impose penalties on the trucker’s employer for negligence based on the principle of vicarious liability. All of these are from the regulatory standpoint.
From the employer-employee standpoint, the trucker may be fired. However, the decision to fire a trucker after an accident depends on several factors, such as how negligent the driver was, the driver’s track record, and the loss of the company record due to the accident. Whether to fire the trucker or not is ultimately the decision of the trucking company, as they cannot be forced to take action. However, it is noteworthy to mention that not all Texas truck drivers are employees of a trucking or freight company. Some truckers own their trucks and work as independent contractors. Since they are not employees of any trucking company, they cannot be fired. At best, the relevant trucking company may choose not to engage their services anymore.
An accident reenactment refers to the reconstruction of an accident scene to determine how the crash occurred. It is an investigative technique the Highway Patrol and other traffic agencies use to ascertain the at-fault party in a crash and the extent of damage resulting from the crash. Also, data, analysis, and conclusions from accident reenactments can be helpful in truck accident lawsuits.
Finding out who is to blame for a Texas truck accident is usually crucial, especially for victims of the accident and regulatory agencies. Ascertaining liability helps to determine whether to file a lawsuit and claim compensation, who to claim compensation from, and who to take regulatory actions against, amongst other things. Some of the possible at-fault parties in a truck accident include:
If you or a loved one suffered injuries due to a truck accident, enlisting the services of a qualified truck accident attorney becomes crucial. Such an attorney deals with all aspects of your case and ensures you or your loved one receives fair compensation for any injury sustained. To find the best accident attorneys in Texas, you may visit the state bar association website for the contact information of qualified accident lawyers and law firms in Texas. You may also use the lawyer referral services of local bar associations within your county. A simple google search for keywords such as "truck accident lawyer near me" or "injury attorneys near me" can also provide you with a list of qualified lawyers within your locality.